Easy Star All Stars are known for doing the impossible – rearranging and covering classic albums close to every music lover’s heart and actually managing to do them justice. Originally formed as the in-house session band for the New York label Easy Star Records, they quickly became the biggest name on the label’s roster, working with some of the strongest names in late reggae and dub to produce their most famous works.
A rainy Wednesday night at the Duchess set the mood for their York date, drawing the usual mixed crowd that dub-reggae brings in; everything on the spectrum from aged rockers to spaced-out fairy children. The Skints opened with an engaging set that really displayed how far they’ve come in the last few years. Working together over a number of different styles with ease, they clearly enjoyed themselves throughout.
The headliners take a good half hour to set up and the crowd begins to grow restless with Irie Vibes’ DJs. As Easy Star all Stars emerge from the back and get into their first song, they seem tired and apprehensive. The set continues and they seem to slowly loosen up, as does the crowd who edge forward shyly as they skank. There is no denying that Easy Stars’ have great talent, but somehow it seems hard for them to escape the session band mentality and really engage with the crowd.
Ras Emmanuel bumbles around the stage, bringing much needed liveliness to the performance. Working through their discography, they happily jump between their new release and the older material. Noticing that the crowd is reacting the most to songs off their Pink Floyd cover album, Dub side of the Moon they alter their set accordingly. A highlight of the show came during ‘Steppin pon the Rasta man Scene’ when the trombonist took a 5 minute solo that was so relentless and impressive that even the band looked amazed.
The crowd demands more as they leave the stage, and after a few minutes of darkness, young guitarist Shelton Garner Jr. emerges, surveys the crowd and opens up with the first few chords of Bob Marley’s timelessly powerful ‘Redemption Song’. Lighters are put up, skanking gives way to swaying and singing along; finally the crowd seems to have bonded. But it is too little too late.
The set ran long and when they returned to the stage for the final time they played a sped up and noticeably hurried version of ‘Money’ which was somewhat disappointing – it’s a meandering track that deserves a relaxed rendition.
The Easy Star all Stars’ are pretty renowned for the unpredictability and energy of their live shows, and despite it being a completely enjoyable gig; they didn’t live up to this reputation. As many of their most loved tracks feature artists like Toots & the Maytals and Black Uhuru, it’s not surprising that recreating the feel of these songs live is virtually impossible.By Oscar Burton Xi